Sunday, July 4, 2004

(Busy Week Finally Over . . .)

I'm going to start today's entry off by telling you some of what went on this week here on the ship. It was a bit of a crazy week. It started off last Sunday by the main elevators. To put it more aptly, it started WITH the main elevators. We have six elevators that go from the lobby where you get off the gangway all the way to the spa on the tenth floor. The are the only way to get off of deck 0 for passengers who don't want to take the stairs (which, of course, makes up for about 2,500 passengers). They were ALL broken for the first two days of this week's voyage. Sunday night, a guest set fire to their room while trying to be romantic with candles in the bathtub. I guess the fact that the ship sometimes rocks back and forth a bit on the ocean didn't really occur to them. We had some other problem mid-Monday and we thought that we weren't going to be able to leave St. Thomas on time, and the captain was sick. The purser's key printer gave out, which meant that every time a guest lost a key (around 300 a week) the had to go from their desk (mid-ship on the third floor) to my office (the front edge of the ship on the sixth floor) to print another key. They had to borrow one of our keys, so whoever had the pager this week was also the only person with a key. About every ten minutes or so a purser would pop into my office, then the phone would ring with another purser frantically trying to catch the other to get THEIR key so they wouldn't have to run up. To top it off, we had a number of guests get on the ship on Wednesday who we didn't know were going to get on (some mix-up at the travel agency), and they were all supposed to have balcony rooms (which, of course, were already full). So, they were really unhappy.

This all came at the end of a bad week for the stewards and waiters. Last week a third of the ship was one huge group. A talk radio station had organized a group rate cruise for as many of the listeners as would want to pay to come along, as well as giving out a number of free cruises. They kept advertising the cruise as being 100% all-inclusive, which isn't exactly true. Everything (even room service) but alcohol is free on the ship, but you still have to tip. It is automatically taken out, but you can raise or lower it at will. They thought that alcohol and tips were included, and most of them removed all tips from their accounts. Now, the stewards and waiters make more than I do, but their salary is VERY low.

I was supposed to go golfing in Aruba on Friday. Thursday (of course) the safety officer announced a bomb drill. Now, he knows about all drills for over a month before hand, but has personally told me that he doesn't feel that anyone on the ship should need more than 24 hours notice. But then he has told me that everyone always gets upset with them because they have plans. I wouldn't think that it would be too difficult to figure out . . . 

The golf pro told me at 11:30 pm that she had arranged for me and her regular helper to get out of the bomb drill to help her. It seemed a bit fishy at the time, but I didn't find out 'till after I got back that she had gotten permission from the hotel director, not the safety officer. I got chewed out a bit, but not nearly as much as she did. Another misunderstanding was that I had thought that it was free, but she had thought that she told me that it would be $50 (it normally costs $250 to play 18 holes at this course). So, it caught me a bit off guard, but it was still a good deal. I don't really like golf enough to pay that much, though, so I likely won't be doing it again. It is also the first time I have played golf since the major damage to my back and neck, and I didn't think about how much pain the twisting and such would cause. So I am still a bit sore, and it is Sunday.

Now, it has been about 14 years since I played last, and I didn't play well even then. So, my score was predictably bad, made even worse by the fact that it is a pretty hard course. However, I wasn't here for the score. I had seen it and it is just an amazing golf course. Since Aruba is a desert, they just started with a large, rainless rock. It is on the highest area of the island, so the view is beautiful. They brought in the best soil, the best grass, and they water it the exact correct amount every day. It looks like an oasis (and basically is). They have houses all the way around it that are modest-sized but really nice. The driving range aims right at the ocean, and the lighthouse is right next to it. Each golf cart has a ball-washer, a club head-washer, and a GPS/computer. The screen detects which hole you are at, and shows a little picture of your cart in relation to the hole. The picture shows every detail of the hole, the recommended way to play it, the direction the wind is normally coming from, exactly how far you are from the pin, and where each of the other carts are that are in front of you (they are in red if they are close enough for you to hit and turn green as they move out of range). At the bottom of the screen it tells you if you are lagging behind and how much time you need to make up to keep up with the rest of the players (and keep from slowing down those behind you). It flips to a scorecard at the beginning of the next hole with par in the score spots, and you just adjust it accordingly. If you want food or a drink, you can punch in what you want on the screen and a girl will bring it out to you. Occasionally a cart with drinks and snacks drives by, and about every sixth hole the screen comes up and asks if you want a drink or some food. It is one of the top courses in the world, and they are playing some major golf tournaments there now (it is a new course).

My partner (a guy who works in the gift shop) and I stayed on the driving range for a while and let the guests go ahead. I was glad for the extra practice, and am sure that she put us together because she felt that we'd be suitably matched (he beat me by around 18 strokes, and he did REALLY badly). We finally started, here's a view of my partner teeing off. You can see the other carts (and the ocean) in the background. The downside of playing in the desert is that there is a LOT of desert woven through the course (as you can see between us and the fairway). The upside is that there is only two water hazards on the whole course (yes, I hit one of them, but just barely, although it was a really tiny one). On this tee (I believe that it was the tenth hole, and the only one where the golf pro was actually watching) I was driving the ball downhill, which should be easy. Instead I hit the roof of one of the houses off to the right. At least it wasn't a window . . . 

The course has a LOT of lizards (or iguanas, I can never remember the difference) and goats. I never could quite get a picture of the goats, as they were never quite in view (but you could hear them constantly, maybe they were piping in the sound over loudspeakers). As I have mentioned before, the lizards usually don't get very big because the teenagers here eat them, but a few on the course were gigantic, and some were very colorful. They tend to run AT the carts, so it was difficult not to run them down. Here is a picture of the ship's golf pro and my partner, and one of her showing him how to improve his swing (he cut 14 strokes off his score on the back nine). This is a pretty good indicator of the view, as well as this one of my partner teeing off.

There was one hole that had an extra tee area that is specifically used during tournaments. The picture is a bit misleading as he is posing, but he is facing 90 right of the hole. The real pro first tee is around 30 feet below and forward of this one, the regular tee is 20 yards in front of that one and the women's tee is in front of that one. If you look in the picture you can see a small circle of grass directly in the center of the picture. This is NOT the fairway, it is the women's tee. Between any of the tees and the green (which you really can't see as it is BEHIND the ridge of rocks at the guy's elbow( is cactus, desert, and then the only real water on the course. Your only chance to NOT lose the ball is to hit off of the tee, over the desert and water, and land on the outside fringe of the green that you can see beyond the sand trap. They say that it is just a lookout point and that it isn't meant to play from, so of course all 8 of us that were up here to look played from here. Believe it or not, I didn't lose my ball! My direction was a bit off, so I hit the rock wall, but the ball didn't roll into the water. I was able to chip up to the green, and was actually on the green in two and got a bogie on the hole. It really was a freak accident, I couldn't have done it twice in a million years.

For those who are interested, I have a couple more of my favorite houses, and a couple more lighthouse pictures. I really like how the corner pillar on the house goes right into the pool, and the hot tub (although I suspect that it is too hot around 11.5 months a year to use it). We did see one house that was for sale. It is 1,500 square feet, three bedroom, two bath and a pool. They just dropped the price to $800,000 if anyone is interested . . .

Yesterday we were at sea, so we were printing cards and watching the pursers truck in and out. Today (Sunday . . . I never said that I was going to FINISH on the day that I was writing about) was the every-60-day full crew immigration check. It is a bit of a pain, as every single crew member (1,500) has to come through immigration. If you aren't a U.S. citizen (around 1,450 of them), you have to have an I95 form on you at all times, and the ship has to keep your passport. So all of the people have to come into line, get their passport, go to the immigration officers, get their I95 and passport stamped, turn their passport back in, and have it put back into order. I had volunteered to help with crowd control (well, I volunteered after I was asked and before I knew that I had to be there at 5:45 a.m.), and I stuck around afterwards putting passports in order of job title and alphabetical order. An awful lot of fun. Then (since I am on duty today) I went out to check on the embarkation setup to make sure that it was going to go smoothly, just finished in time for lunch, and now I'm typing to you.

I thought that I'd add an additional note here, since I haven't published this yet (I hope to publish it tomorrow in St. Thomas). The people that I talked about above who set their room on fire were (of course) moved to a different room. We always sell out of our balcony rooms, and we have some people who sign on without a room assignment in the hopes of getting a better room, and we give spares to them. So, of course we did not put them into a balcony room when we moved them. Wednesday night they came to the pursers and demanded a refund since they had signed up for a balcony room and didn't get one. I told the pursers that they should tell them that they DID have a balcony room, and were welcome to continue using it, and in fact we'd be happy to charge them for the second room that they were using too if they wanted.

A few more interesting complaints, if you are interested. Our golf pro is (obviously) female. She has won a number of tournaments, and plays in the LPGA. A customer the week before last came back from her golf tour (which promises to have the golf pro give you pointers and such if you want) and demanded his money back. He even wrote a letter to the company. His complaint was that the golf pro was a woman. He not only didn't like it, he considered it completely unthinkable, he was offended, and said that there should NEVER be an occasion where a woman is teaching or in charge of golf. A guest came to the pursers to complain that he had paid for an "Ocean View" balcony, and demanded to have it. They looked up the room number, and sure enough it was a balcony room. This was pointed out to him, at which point he insisted that it was not an ocean view room. Someone was sent up with him, where he pointed out that the only view from his room was a wall. The wall of the terminal, in fact. He was under the impression that an ocean-view room meant that the captain would always park the ship so that it would be facing away from the port so that he could see the ocean during the day when we were at port. He then demanded (fruitlessly, I might add) to speak with the captain, to demand that we turn the ship around to face the other way . . .